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Mario Kart has come a long way since it’s debut in 1992 and has developed into one of the most popular video game racing franchises in the world. Over the years, Nintendo has modified the formula in some way with each new game and a lot has come and gone. Each game introduces something new and in Mario Kart 8, the big new thing is anti-gravity. Developed and published by Nintendo, Mario Kart 8 was released for Wii U in May, 2014. An enhanced version of the game titled Mario Kart 8 Deluxe was released for Switch in April, 2017. It includes all of the DLC, additional content, and gameplay tweaks. Despite some odd design choices, the original Mario Kart 8 is a great game and was one of the best-selling games for the Wii U.
Mario Kart 8 features not only karts and bikes but also ATVs. The game borrows elements from Mario Kart 7 including the gliders and unlockable vehicle parts. There’s a lot of vehicle parts to unlock and most of them are unlocked by collecting the coins scattered around the courses, and the parts you get are random. Coins also increase your top speed and the maximum amount of coins you can acquire during a race is ten so needless to say, unlocking most of the parts can feel like a grind. All parts have different stats and the combination of character and vehicle parts will determine your stats in speed, acceleration, weight, handling, and traction. The big gimmick in 8 is anti-gravity, allowing you to drive on walls and ceilings. When driving on anti-gravity segments of the courses, you can bump into other racers to receive a boost.
Deluxe supports multiple control options including the GameCube controller and it was updated to support Labo. You can accelerate, brake, hop, drift, perform drift boosts or mini-turbos, perform tricks, and glide after driving off certain ramps. Deluxe adds in a third level of mini-turbo called ultra mini-turbo and introduces a feature a called Smart Steering which is enabled by default. It makes staying on courses easier, however you can’t activate the ultra mini-turbo with it enabled. Each vehicle does feel different and the character and parts you select do make a difference. The game features a large roster of characters and they’re not all from the Mario universe. There are several guest characters from other Nintendo franchises including Link from Zelda, the Inklings from Splatoon, and Isabelle and the Villagers from Animal Crossing. In Deluxe, most of the characters are unlocked from the get-go and as awesome as the roster is, and as much as I welcome the Koopalings, I was disappointed to see that some previously playable characters didn’t make the cut like Diddy Kong and Petey Piranha. You can race as your Mii character and you can use amiibos to unlock Mii Racing Suits.
Mario Kart 8 features numerous game modes and supports both local and online multiplayer. You can race for cups in the Grand Prix, try to set record times and race staff ghosts in the Time Trials mode, and Battle opponents in different stages. You can race and battle other players online and even set up tournaments. In our experience, Deluxe has better and more stable online gameplay than some of Nintendo’s other offerings on Switch. The Battle mode in Deluxe has seen some significant changes. 8 only included the classic Balloon Battle game type and the stages were simply racing courses reworked for the Battle gameplay.
Deluxe includes additional Battle game types and stages or arenas designed specifically for the mode. Five stages are new and three are from previous games. Most of the additional game types were present in previous games. The only new one is Renegade Roundup. It features a “cops and robbers” type of gameplay and actually proves to be a lot of fun. One team has to capture players on the opposing team using Piranha Plants and the other team has to simply avoid being captured and can free their captured teammates from jail cells.
One element that has always made Mario Kart unique is items. Mario Kart 8 only allowed racers to hold one item but in Deluxe you can hold two and the Double Item Box from Double Dash makes a return. Unfortunately, unlike that game, you can’t switch between items manually. All of the classic items are here and the Coin returns as an item. It grants you two coins and it feels like a waste of an item because the courses are filled with them and they respawn. I would get the Coin item quite frequently whenever I was in first and it proved to be very annoying because it never helps you. It just leaves you open to attack. It’s not hard to accumulate coins so I’d rather have something to defend myself. If anything, it’s like the game’s way of saying “Fuck you. You get no protection.”
New to Mario Kart 8 is the Boomerang Flower, Piranha Plant, Super Horn, and Crazy Eight and Deluxe brings back Boo and the Feather which is only available in the Battle mode. You can throw the Boomerang Flower to hit obstacles and other racers and it will return after being thrown. The Piranha Plant will automatically chomp nearby obstacles and opponents. And Crazy Eight generates eight items that circle around your vehicle, similar to the Lucky Seven item from Mario Kart 7. The Super Horn is the significant new item. It emits a radial shockwave that can destroy obstacles, shells, and cause opponents to spin out. It’s a significant item because it can destroy Spiny Shells, making it extremely useful for the racer in first. The Spiny Shell behavior has changed a little. It still flies but it stays low to the ground and will knock away any opponents in its path on the way to the racer in first, similar to how it worked in Mario Kart 64 and Super Circuit.
Mario Kart 8 and Deluxe are unbalanced and rubber banding is present but these are not uncommon traits for the series and, luckily, the unbalanced gameplay is nothing like what’s experienced in Mario Kart Wii. If you’re in first for a little while or you get really far ahead, the game will make an obvious effort to stop you and sometimes you become the victim of an insane chain of attacks, especially in the higher engine classes. The rubber banding will often make the vehicle stats feel like they mean nothing. Driving well and frequently performing mini-turbos and tricks for small boosts should lead you to victory and 8 and Deluxe feel more forgiving than some of the previous entries. Lightning is the only attack that will cause you to drop or lose your equipped item and the one you have in reserve. You won’t lose items after falling off the course and Lakitu is very quick to return you to the course. Furthermore, earning a three star rank for a Grand Prix cup simply requires you to win each race.
The engine classes can also be seen as the difficulty. The higher the engine class, the more challenging the gameplay. All of the engine classes from the previous games, including Mirror make a return and new to 8 is 200cc and vehicles will move significantly faster in this class. It was originally added to 8 in an update and it’s very obvious the courses are not designed for the speed, even in Deluxe. I won’t speak for other players, but I typically don’t brake in Mario Kart games unless I absolutely have to. I constantly accelerate and drift around turns and the courses have always been designed to let you do that. The game actually tells you braking is crucial in 200cc. And it’s true. We tapped the brake button quite often. Choosing the right character and vehicle parts and having the course layouts memorized is very important in this class because it’s very easy to make mistakes. Using a Mushroom willy-nilly or getting any kind of boost can often send you off-course. After a while, I realized it was better to stop performing tricks after driving off certain ramps because I would frequently end up boosting into a wall, barrier, or drive off the course.
The increase in speed will change how you play, at least in the beginning. All of the skills you’ve learned and have grown accustomed to in the previous engine classes mostly apply but you have think more about the basic mechanics. In the previous games and lower engine classes, once I got the mechanics down, I could easily accelerate and drift around without too much issue. It became second nature so all I had to really think about was items and make sure to avoid any obstacles on the course. This applies to 200cc as well but I also had to think about my speed and if I should or shouldn’t boost, among other things. Choosing the right combination of character and vehicle parts is important because that dictates how your vehicle will handle. With enough practice, you can drive perfect laps around the courses but 200cc definitely has a learning curve.
The new engine class is cool and all but it’s also our biggest gripe with the game. We’re not against the increase in speed and skill is required to master 200cc but the courses are simply not designed for it and that’s the problem. Alterations were made to physics and boost values but the layouts are unchanged. Like the previous games, all the courses are designed so you could speed, drift and perform mini-turbos to complete laps as fast as possible without ever having to tap the brake button. The speed of the higher engine classes makes it more challenging but it’s always possible. If you start at 50cc and move your way up, everything you learn should prepare you to take on 150cc and Mirror. 200cc’s increase in speed almost requires you to slow down or brake, at least at first, which can be hard to get used to and is also a contrast to what you’ve been doing all this time.
One way we could tell the courses were not designed for the speed is because we would over jump many things which was never a problem for us in the lower engine classes. Some courses include ramps or platforms that will launch you to other platforms or areas with ramps and if you perform tricks, you’ll be flying and boosting through these segments of the courses. They’re designed to let you do that. In 200cc, ramps can launch you further, making it easy to over jump the other ramps or the platforms entirely, often resulting in landing off-course, so we found it better to avoid certain ramps altogether.
Luckily, you can brake while drifting and that’s something we had to get used to in 200cc. Holding down the accelerate button while drifting all the time without braking will often lead to disaster because you’re simply moving too fast to make clean turns. You have to either slow down or use a character and vehicle part combination that can handle the turns better. Any courses with a lot of twists and turns can result in a lot of mistakes and crashes in 200cc. Even the AI struggles to stay on-course. We’ve seen them drive into many walls and barriers and fall off the courses frequently and much more often than in the other engine classes. We think the developers should have either modified the layouts of existing courses or included new courses to accommodate 200cc.
With all of the DLC, Mario Kart 8 contains the largest roster of courses in the series up to this point. The Grand Prix features twelve cups. Four consist of all new courses, another four consist of retro courses, and the DLC cups include a mix of new and retro courses. Several DLC courses are based on locations from other Nintendo franchises like F-Zero, Zelda, Animal Crossing, and Excitebike. Some courses don’t actually feature laps and instead consist of checkpoints. Most of the new courses are excellent. You’ll race around an airport, water park, a mansion clearly inspired by the Luigi’s Mansion series of games, and 8’s iteration of Rainbow Road is set in a space station. Some of the retro courses look and feel entirely different than they did in their original games and were altered to support the new mechanics.
There will be plenty of hazards to avoid along with ramps, boost pads, and shortcuts to utilize. You’ll have to watch out for lightning that strikes the boost pads on the Cloudtop Cruise course, statues firing lasers in Bowser’s Castle, and several courses feature Piranha Plants ready to chomp any driver that gets near them. The only course we think is unremarkable is Ice Ice Outpost. It’s a DLC course that’s very bland and uninteresting when compared to the others. Courses like Excitebike Arena and Animal Crossing will differ in some way each time you race on them. The coins in Hyrule Circuit and Animal Crossing are changed to Rupees and Bells respectively and coins can only be acquired by driving over the pit areas in the F-Zero courses.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe does look better than the original. With the Switch docked, the game is presented in 1080p and 720p when playing with the Switch in handheld mode. The presentation is colorful and the courses, characters, and vehicles are all detailed. Many of the retro courses really stand out because they’re now visually consistent with the rest. Some of them look almost entirely different like Ribbon Road from Super Circuit for example. The only eyesore we noticed was some lower poly Toads and Yoshis in the backgrounds of some courses. The gameplay is accompanied by a phenomenal soundtrack. You’ll get to listen to a lot of jamming orchestral and memorable tunes. 8 definitely has one of the best soundtracks in the series. On the technical side, we encountered no major bugs or issues and the game runs at a smooth sixty frames when playing solo or locally with one other player. When three of us were racing in the Grand Prix, we noticed the frame was lower but stable.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is my favorite game in the series up to this point and I think the changes the developers made are all for the better. It’s clearly the superior version. Deluxe includes a lot of content for both single player and multiplayer. I love the large roster of playable characters, there’s a ton of courses and the variety is excellent, and the revamped Battle Mode results in one of the best Battle Modes in the series. Plus, it looks great and contains one of the greatest soundtracks in the series. I think 200cc is neat and does require skill to master but because the courses aren’t really designed for the speed, we found it resulted in more frustration than anything else. And keep in mind the unbalanced gameplay is still in effect in 200cc. It’s just a lot faster. Unbalanced gameplay is nothing new for the series and Deluxe is far from the worst offender. But it is still a problem and I definitely felt cheated out wins on more than one occasion, especially when racing in the higher engine classes. Most of the problems I have with the game I actually expected go into it so they didn’t come as a shock. It’s typical Mario Kart.
We would absolutely recommend Mario Kart 8 Deluxe to fans of the series and racing games. It’s accessible, fun, it can be challenging, and you can take the experience with you on-the-go. Being a Mario Kart game, it is designed to appeal to a wide audience and when playing casually, it will provide hours upon hours of entertainment. Those looking to master the mechanics and gameplay will surely notice flaws with balance but the issues never overshadow what makes this game so appealing and fun in the first place. Definitely check it out.